The Orange Line

From this week’s reading from Essays Critical and Clinical, in the chapter “What Children Say”, Deleuze writes, “The map expresses the identity of the journey and what one journeys through. It merges with its objects, when the object itself is movement” (61-62). I was reminded of this wonderful example of a physical art-map that seems to demonstrate the value of Deleuze’s maps.

A thin line of orange paint can be found on various streets across lower Manhattan. Although it is easy to disregard, the line, when followed is a map of a signature and a journey. A graffiti artist painted it in 2006, and when followed, the line spells his tag, “Momo” in huge letters that stretch all the way across the island. He constructed this tag by attaching a can of paint to the back of his bicycle, rigged with a device that controlled the spill of the paint and rode his path on two separate mornings.

from the New York Times

This piece of art embedded into the city structure is very real, and when followed, traces Momo’s original journey; but the ultimate totality of the work is so vast that it cannot be experienced from a distance. This signature must be imagined, but is nonetheless real. Deleuze asserts in the same chapter, “…the imaginary and the real must be…like two juxtaposable or superimposable parts of a single trajectory, two faces that ceaselessly interchange with one another…” (63). Momo has, in effect, created a map that charts his trajectory, territorializes the city streets, and invents a journey that exists both imagined and real.

The orange line is a specific line, a map of Momo’s journey. It is not merely a tracing of the streets of lower Manhattan, nor is it just his signature floating in space. It forms a rhizome with the city of New York. People walk on it, snow falls on it, it follows the path of the streets, etc… But now, the streets also follow the path of the line. They interact with one another, affecting teach other’s transformation. In places the line is worn down. I used to follow the line on my way to work when I lived on 4th Street, not knowing the origins of my guide. It effects the journey of the city’s inhabitants. As Deleuze and Gauttari write in A Thousand Plateaus‘ “Introduction: Rhizome”, “The map is open and connectable in all of its dimensions; it is detachable, reversible, susceptible to constant modification” (12). In Momo’s orange line, an invention of a map and a signature, you can find all of these qualities. The line can be picked up in one spot and abandoned at another, it can be followed from one end to the other and back, it can be ignored (and usually is). Whatever it is, it is creating connections with the city streets where is lives, affecting them and being affected.

To find out more about Momo’s orange line, you can watch a video he made about it on his website or read this article.


3 Responses to “The Orange Line”

  1. It’s an interesting practice to take the city’s surface as a large canvas for experimentation with new ways of thinking about the spaces we inhabit. But it seems like the public’s experience of the Momo tagline has been richer in discovery and meaning than his actual intentions making it. There are definitely rhizomatic applications to the ongoing life of this work, and it almost resembles the psychogeographic map-making activities of Guy Debord and the Situationists:

    However, the SI’s project differs from Momo’s by being open-ended explorations of urban spaces in order to de-familiarize oneself with those spaces and open the city to possibilities of new uses and perspectives.

    Especially in relation to the work Momo cites as the project’s inspiration (graffiti footprints that traversed the city leading to a spot with historical/social significance, perhaps inviting those who followed the trail to contemplate the life path of the individual who inspired the work), it’s disappointing that this work is ultimately a huge “I was here” tag on the city’s surface.

    Maybe this is because tagging/graffiti practices are not art-making per se, but rather code-reading, sloganeering, memorialization, and proclamations of identity within certain social networks (originally, street youth).

    Still, it’s an interesting experiment and something I”ll definitely look out for when walking around downtown.


  2. thechza Says:

    I wouldn’t consider Graffiti as “art-making” per se either. Most graffiti writters, or the “real” ones at least, wont see themselves as artist.

    but I just thought that it was interesting that if in that paragraph you would change the social network of “street youth” to “bourgeois elite”, the practices you are stating seem to describe the established art world pretty well:

    “art practices are code-reading, sloganeering, memorialization, and proclamations of identity within certain social networks (originally, bourgeois elite).”

    Both worlds are code-reading memoralizations of shared elevated values, mostly gravitating around the idiosyncrasies of inflamed egos. To view the other’s codes as shallow and trivial (or as “sloganeering”) is to undermine the latent potential of collective useless practices that one does not grasp.

    at least graffiti is fun and ilegal… and there is no money in it. (you are thinking of street art).

    -Alexander Chaparro

  3. immanentterrainsp11 Says:

    I would agree that it is unfortunate that he couldn’t think of a more inclusive tag. His intentions may not align with our discussions of art; he is certainly not looking to decenter his perspective.
    It is interesting, too, that the whole of his name can only be seen from a ‘subjective’ perspective of a theoretical tracing. There is no way for the inhabitants of Lower Manhattan to empirically verify his signature, it can only be inferred, as illustrated in the map I posted above. The only experience of the signature is piece by piece, in close with it. For this reason, I supposed I disregarded the larger picture and the artists statement. It was not something I considered having any bearing at all in my experience with the line. And it is not something that can truly be experienced .

    In a way, Momo failed to make his mark of the “I was here” kind. Because if it can not be empirically experienced- neither from a helicopter (the line is too small and too dull) nor on the ground- as a full signature, does it really amount to that full “Momo” he was attempting?

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